The following is a report of my first sheep hunt recently completed in Unit 3 in Wyoming with B. Joe Coy which I would like to submit for publication in the Hunting Report section of "Wild Sheep".
Wyoming Bighorn "Of governors, kings, and bighorns..."
Needless to say, I am not "royalty", but after two weeks in the mountains chasing bighorns, I certainly felt like I was on top of the world, literally and figuratively!! After only three years of applying I was informed last spring of my "lucky draw" for a nonresident tag in perhaps one of Wyoming's best sheep units--unit 3. It was a dream come true.
The first order of business was to pick the best outfitter I could find for this "once in a lifetime opportunity". My research uncovered a few highly qualified outfitter/guides and after talking to numerous, experienced sheep hunters, I booked with B. Joe Coy of Yellow Creek Outfitters. I liked B. Joe's operation for a number of reasons--he has hunted unit 3 professionally for 15 years, his is a true "family" operation that truly puts the hunter's needs first with everyone in the family pitching in, and he has established a well deserved reputation for offering an incredible hunting experience--sturdy horses, a well-equipped, permanent camp, and an incredible knowledge of the sheep and country in which he hunts.
One other reason also got my attention: perhaps no other outfitter has guided as many "governor hunt" sheep hunters as B. Joe has .... I reasoned that serious sheep hunters having spent considerable moneys for these auction tags would know a thing or two .... all whom I talked to ... and there are many .... gave B. Joe rave reviews.
The second order of business was to get in "sheep shape"...no easy task for me in Dallas. Not only would the altitude be a challenge, but just running, and hiking practice would prove difficult as the second worst heat wave in Dallas' history descended on us early in the summer of 1998..... morning temperatures set "high lows"... 85 degrees in the morning with afternoon highs consistently topping 100 degrees. I must have consumed a record amount of Gatorade this summer just getting ready.
The hunt could not come fast enough ... but off to Cody, Wyoming I went on October 17th. I went two plus days early to get acclimated, sight in, and see the sights. One of those sights included the FNAWS headquarters. What an amazing place and one definitely capable of creating a bad case of "sheep fever" the bronze statues, the mounts, and the friendly folks all created the right atmosphere to get me in the right frame of mind .... not that I needed that much help. (If you have the opportunity, try and get to Cody sometime ... the FNAWS headquarters and the neighboring museum with a B & C display, historical firearms display is a "must see")
On Monday, October 19, the Coy family and I headed off to the trailhead. As I mentioned, it was truly a family affair .... B. Joe's two daughters and wife Lori all helped us load up and gave us a big sendoff. B. Joe led a string of packhorses as I kept saying "pinch me I'm dreaming" ... atop sturdy mountain horses, we climbed for three hours through increasingly rugged terrain. Every bend in the trail held another scenic wonder until we arrived at camp at 9,800 feet and then it only got better ... camp was perfectly situated such that one could take in just extraordinary views of the valley below, and basins and ridges all around us.
Day one set the example for the entire hunt .... every morning we rode off to glass one or more basins or ridges for rams .... and, boy, did we find rams .... or I should say that B. Joe found rams. He constantly amazed me with his sheep spotting ability and knowledge of his country which permitted us to look over numerous rams ( and a couple of grizzlies) in the first few days. We spent the first few days trying to "find" an outstanding 175-class ram we had briefly spotted on the first morning. Unfortunately, he seemingly had disappeared so by day four, I was ready to get a closer look at the other rams in the area.
On my first stalk, B. Joe was able to put us into a position 300 yards below a resting group of 6 rams .... 3 of which were "shooters"..but one of which was the best! At this point I got a couple of harsh lessons in "Sheep Hunting 101". First, rams are the "laziest" animals I have ever hunted .... for two hours we stood in a patch of timber, amidst snow showers and falling temperatures while the bigger rams lay and chewed their cud .... a very frustrating experience for me.
Finally, "ram #2 and ram #3" got up and gave me ample opportunities to take one but I decided to wait on "ram #1 sometimes one guesses correctly, sometimes not .... As #2 and # 3 started "headbutting", I felt like I was watching a Marty Stouffer film only to watch in utter dismay as these two lesser rams bumped into #1. He jumped up and gave me his "broadside" but I was unable to shoot ... #2 stood directly behind him .... shooting would have run the risk of hitting two animals, a risk B. Joe and I were unwilling to take. The two rams parted only as the larger one "rolled over" the ridge leaving me with a 300 yard shot straight up hill at a "shrinking" target well, you know the rest .... a little too much "ram fever", rushed shot, dirt flies .... sheep gone!!!!! Frustrated and dismayed, my spirits were lifted by B. Joe's assurances that there were still more sheep to find and ridges to climb.
Sure enough, day five found us on a two hour stalk in the next basin ... a stalk which we would actually make a total of three times in the coming days. Our route in fact took us straight up a grizzly trail left in the snow the night before .... we came to call this trek..."grizzly alley". We arrived at our observation spot only to discover two incredible things ... the band of rams had seemingly disappeared to our disappointment .... but in glassing for them we found none other than the same " 175 class" ram from day one not only that, but he was bedded not 500 yards from where we had left the horses not three hours ago. So, we made a mad dash down the mountain and through "grizzly alley" in record time.
Like all "class" animals, this ram showed us why he was a cut above the rest ... he had learned a few lessons in his day .... perched in a perfect position, the closet we could get to him was 340 yards .... another "sheep hunting 101" lesson .... be prepared to make the long shot. While I had practiced at 300 yards, and felt reasonably confident of my ability to make the shot, the bench is a world away from a rock perch shooting downhill .... ( I have got to find a surefire way to learn to make these adjustments for these truly severe up and down hill shots ... any ides??) .... well, by now you can guess the rest .... did not hold high enough .... dirt flies ... sheep gone .... sickness in the belly. I wanted to crawl under the rock I was perched on!!!
I have always believed that "some come easy ... some come hard" but I was beginning to wonder about this sheep hunting business and could I bring a bighorn off this mountain. Fortunately, it was at this point that being in the best sheep hunting unit with a superb sheep spotter would pay off. Changing weather conditions, B. Joe assured me, would bring more and "new" rams into the country .... we just had to stick to our game plan. He suggested there was definitely a "glimmer of hope"...a note I promptly wrote in my hunting journal to remind myself that "it ain't over until the fat lady sings .... or whatever"
Not only did new sheep arrive .... but so did the King .... Bob King, of King's Saddlery of Sheridan, Wyoming arrived in camp. Bob's dad and brothers are extremely well known for their quality leather and rope goods. Bob is a good friend of B. Joe's and had a unit 3 tag also so he had arrived for the last few days of the hunt to visit, help, and take a rain if the opportunity presented itself." The King" was a pleasure to have in camp .... he and B. Joe told story after story about their rodeo days .... other rodeo characters ... and lots and lots of hunting stories reminding me that "everyone is going to miss from time to time".
Well, "third time's a charm"...on the last day of my hunt, the three of us went up "grizzly alley" for the third time .... this time the sheep cooperated ... sort of. First, just to start the long stalk the three of us had to cut a few bush limbs to become "walking bushes" to conceal our movement across a draw within the sight of the rams .... another "lesson"...they may be a mile away, but you can be assured they know you're there unless you're extra careful!
Once in position, we discovered only half of the eight rams we had hoped to find were where we might take ones .... but this time at least they were "only" 200 yards away. Bob and I got set as B. Joe gave us our instructions. Once we were ready... "Boom .... Boom nearly two simultaneous shots rang out. Bob's ram fell just about where he stood mine ran down the drainage and up the far slope probably only 300 yards as the "crow flies"...but a one hour hike at 10,000 feet ... straight up and straight down when it came time to pack him out.
What a "rush I had my first sheep .... I cannot put into words how I felt..."pinch me I'm dreaming" ...a truly wonderful experience and a hunt that really provided all the reasons we hunt beautiful country, magnificent animals, heartache and joy, and good company with the outfitter to "kings and governors" and his family and friends.
Needless to say, I returned to Dallas with a real bad case of "sheep fever"...I have already been in touch with dall and stone outfitters also planning to go to Reno for the first time many of you will recognize the symptoms!!!! Other than more sheep hunts, is there a cure??